The feature project Moving South and its team - producer Robyn Kershaw, director Kate Woods and writer Cath Moore - were selected to attend the IndiVision Project Lab in February 2006. After the Lab they received draft funding to develop the script further, an IndiVision Travel Grant to pitch the project overseas, and places at the recent IndiVision Marketing Workshop. Robyn and Kate spoke to AFC Information Officer Jain Moralee about the IndiVision integrated development process.
Your international advisor at the IndiVision Lab was US producer Andrew Fierberg (Fur, Secretary, Yes). How was discussing your project with Andrew beneficial?
RK: I thought Andrew was sensational for us because he 'got' our project instantly. He also got us as filmmakers fairly instantly and he made us laugh…always a healthy start. That made it so much easier to be very frank and open and exposed really, about everything to do with our work and what we were trying to achieve. We had a tremendous dialogue with him at the Lab and continue to have a dialogue with him.
KW: You also get really clear, strong feedback [on] production stuff as well as script. Like: "Have you thought about where the dent on the car's going to be?" Little simple things like that. It was also wonderful to see that the international market has a human face - that you are in a big community, not the poor cousin.
Did the discussions you had with Andrew change the way you were approaching your project in any way?
KW: It made me feel incredibly confident about my own voice and sensibility.
RK: Yes, because there are times when you are in development and being challenged by the process - trying to reach the potential of the work - that you lose some of that confidence and it is very…well they don't call development 'hell' for nothing!
KW: It really gave us something to go back to every time things got a bit hard. And he was so much fun. It actually was very invigorating.
How was working in the Lab as a team, and with other teams?
KW: The sort of critique that came out of the Lab from conversations we had with Lab advisors was refreshing for us as a team, because we were able to negotiate that in consultation with each other. When all three of us were in a dialogue about the script or the film or what we were trying to achieve, we all spoke with one voice, even though we had not developed a shared dialogue beforehand. Prior to [the Lab] we only had phone meetings and email contact and one or two face-to-face meetings. It was really bonding for Robbie, Cath and I, incredibly vital for our development as a team and for the project.
At the IndiVision Lab there is a whole day on visual language, with visual consultant Rowan Cassidy. Can you describe your experience of that?
KW: I adored it - it was my favourite thing - I think because [visual language] is something that you don't actually get to deconstruct and talk about in quite that way. My way through all my work is through performance. And the visual language sort of comes trailing along behind the story. To actually enter a work that way, the way Rowan described, was just blissful.
In his sessions Rowan reads your synopsis, interacts with the visual references you have put together for the film, and then takes you through his process of creating a visual language for a project, and his low- and high-budget paths for pre-visualisation. Did all that highlight for you a new way of working?
KW: Absolutely. I've worked a lot in television. Television is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to practise our craft - being able to be very clear about what the story is, being able to actually deliver that in performance. But unless there is a very strong cinematic grammar that is established for a particular show right at the beginning, and it's carried through by the producing team, then it's very hard for a director to also take that on board when you've got five days to shoot an hour of drama. That very rarely happened in Australia - where the visual language was set and the producers carried that and not the directors. So Rowan was really great.
You then received an IndiVision Travel Grant to attend the Cannes Film Market and pitch Moving South. Can you talk about the experience of travelling to the market together?
RK: Both Kate and I knew what we were trying to achieve -to interview as many potential sales agents and distributors as possible to understand who would be the right person for us, because there are an awful lot of them. I think a lot of filmmakers need to understand that when someone says, "Oh, I'd really like to read your script," that you don't just send it in. You need to be very clear about the relationship that you're striking up. This is a business relationship and you need to be working with people who are simpatico, who want to collaborate with you, your work and processes, who see the same things in the script that you know you will embody in the film. You need to assess and understand their slate if you are to give your film the best advantage.
Do you do, or have you done in the past, a lot of that research into that aspect?
RK: I did know a bit already. So I just used that as a basis, and then asked for help from a few key individuals. I went to the FFC as well, and got last year's contacts. And made the connection with the people who I thought would be best for us. We left meetings with: "We will send you the script when we're ready." I think you need to have some sort of mentoring situation as an emerging producer, or as an emerging team, to understand who you want to meet and why, and what you want to achieve. Always work out before you go into the meeting what you want to get out of it.
And how effective do you think it was travelling as a team?
RK: Utterly essential. There's some things that must come from the producer, some things that must come from the director. The sales agents, the distributors - everybody needs to see the white of the director's eyes. No matter what I might say, they have to hear what Kate is saying and why she's saying it, and how she says it, and that we're in tune. It's essential to speak the same language.
Any other market tips?
RK: I had great support from the FFC, and from the AFC, Sandra Sdraulig, James Hewison and Joel Pearlman. You have to not be afraid to ask questions. These people are dealing with the market all the time. Once we were in Cannes some of the key people who support our work introduced us to very influential contacts. So we were quite fortunate.
A number of months after the IndiVision Lab, the teams are invited back for a follow-up event - the IndiVision Marketing Workshop - where sales agents from Europe and the US give international market feedback on the projects, and talk about how to get the best out of sales agents, distributors, and festivals. How was the workshop for you?
KW: The best week I've ever had. You get better and better and better at pitching, and you understand: Oh this is how I actually have to talk about the work.
RK: It's a very organic process, and you use these opportunities to question why you're doing something. You go back and look at the work and go: "Okay, this is what I'm trying to say to an audience. How am I trying to say it? Why am I trying to say it?" You can use opportunities like these to question, find answers to the questions raised throughout this process, or you can actually ignore it to your peril. This week has been phenomenal really because you get more and more confident. You also get better at knowing who to take note of and why. Like when you get notes on development, you might use only twenty per cent of what some say, with others it's ninety per cent. And if you're getting the same feedback in the same way, listen.
So how would you rate the IndiVision integrated development path?
RK: I feel so fortunate that we put our hands up and said, "Could you please consider us?" because it's certainly invigorating and totally affirming. It changed the momentum of this project completely. Focus is really accelerated. Even more so for us because we aren't even in the same state so we're not able to see each other every few days. At IndiVision we've had this incredibly intense and fantastic 24/7 period. I feel very privileged to be part of it.
KW: As teams, we never get to talk to each other, and just to know that it's a shared experience is enough. [Other filmmakers] have similar kind of fears and anxieties. I think it's great… reminds you that you are part of a community all trying to do the same thing.
Any last thoughts?
RK: Don't give up. At every turn. When you are dejected you can lose focus, and yet it is sometimes in that space that you need to remain focused, to turn a situation around by finding another solution, invariably working to the film's advantage.